Most Americans love sports. We watch, play, talk about sports, jump off our couches with excitement, lose sleep (for some, money), we attend sporting events with our children, watch ESPN with them and discuss players and teams. Does this PASSION for sports influence parenting??
I know this: kids are very intelligent and they DO take notice. They rank famous athletes among the most admired people in their lives (73%), second only to their parents (92%).
Thirty-six million children in the U.S. play organized sports. When they start, it's a brave new adventure for them (as well as the parents). For me, it started when I was 8 years old. When asked, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" My answer, after watching Jordan win his first NBA championship was, "I want to be an NBA player."
Pretty cool, right?
Athletes, the next president, an astronaut, etc... These are the "standard" comforting responses to the question: What do you want to be when you grow up??
It's great BUT is it really a PRACTICAL answer when you're 16 years old and the careers teacher asks you the same question and your answer is still the same?? I can only imagine her face now... It was only cute hearing, "I want to be the next Michael Jordan" when I was 8...
It started by going to Sunset Park when I was little and playing against the older kids. Then it turned into getting a hoop outside my house, signing up for Lewis Camp, joining the 6th grade YMCA league, and then other leagues... as I started to get better I was invited to play at "open gyms" with the "really good kids", I was invited to other leagues that were more competitive for me and more expensive for my mom and then they asked "the question", "Are you doing the SUMMER LEAGUE this year?" My FACE LIT UP! I can tell you now, the only reason my mom paid for them was because of the look on my face that day --- Bless her heart --- she knew deep down that I wasn't going to be the "next Michael Jordan" but she knew I LOVED playing basketball. From here, things started to snowball... not only my OBSESSION with basketball but the price it cost to play in league after league... after league... tournament after tournament... etc...
Obsession? Yes! BUT let's start with the GOOD:
Basketball's valuable LIFE LESSONS: I loved being part of a "team". I got really good at calculating averages. I knew my points per game, assists, rebounds, winning percentage, etc... I didn't keep track of all the "bad stuff" like turnovers and missed shots. If I lost against someone in 1 on 1 or against a team I was eager to play them again. If we won a game, I felt like I could levitate off the ground! There was something good about having to be "on time", tuck my shirt in and compete. I learned:
My mom use to tell me all of these things til she was blue in her face but there is something different when I (or kids) are LIVING IT on and off the court. The "good stuff" about youth sports is EXCEPTIONAL: exercise, fresh air, new friends, team-work, new skills, proprioception (had to throw that word in somewhere :) ), discipline... BUT why did it keep me (and most likely my mom) up at night??
Parenting an "Athlete":
Basketball (as are other sports) is a huge, time-sucking, money-swallowing, energy consuming beast! Youth sports can very easily and completely overwhelm the family routine.
7th grade YMCA league had 2 practices per week and games on Saturday. Middle school practice was directly after school everyday with 2 games per week and only 1 was a home game. Socks, shorts, new ball, jersey, dues, and of course.... the overly expensive NEW SNEAKERS that everyone "had to have". My mom would race me from place to place soooo fast she was given the nickname "Mario Andretti" from the neighbors. We rarely had dinner as a family and when we did it was in front of a T.V. watching the Bulls. Church was out of the question and I could barely hold a conversation without the words "good game" or "and one". But is was never the "disrupting of the family routine" that worried my mother -- she would do anything for her kids to see them smile. It was never a question of sports or homework. My mother always made me do my homework before going outside to practice and my grades where always well enough to keep her and my teachers happy. The BAD thing was, (now that I look back on it) why was my mom making such a HUGE effort for me to play sports?? Does anyone else wonder the same thing??
The above gripes are straightforward issues I've seen first hand, experienced first hand and what I hear from parents and it is their job to address and resolve them. They're in the job description. What I agonize over is the PRESSURE on these kids to perform.
It's the fourth quarter and down by 1 with 5 seconds left. You are told in the last timeout, "This is a very important game" (aren't they all??). You just got fouled and are at the free throw line shooting 2. The crowd erupts, the bench jumps up and you see the coach fist pump the air -- but you're still down by 1 -- You head to the free throw line, the crowd get so quite you could hear a pin drop. You take your routine 3 dribbles and get ready to shoot and you start to hear the noise of the opposing team's bench and their crowd -- "Miss it!", "Choke!", "Airball, Airball!" (They must have remembered your play in the first quarter). You remember and apply all the childhood basics: Right foot aimed straight at the center of the rim, left foot slightly behind, knees bent, follow your eyes up to the rim, aim for the back iron, and hold your follow through and... It works flawlessly -- nothing but net! The crowd erupts even more!! -- BUT we're still tied. The next free throw holds the outcome of the teams future. You make it and WIN. But if you miss, it's overtime. You have 4 fouls (one from fouling out) and your "big guy" is on the bench fouled out. It's all up to YOU. No one is thinking about the 8 turnovers the team had in the first quarter, the missed layup before halftime and the 7 missed free throws up to this point. If you miss, it's not only a personal loss but it could also be a loss for the team.
It all comes down to your child. He looks to be holding it together BUT you want to puke all over the stands...
How has shooting hoops with the "older kids" manifested into so much stress it makes us want to lose our lunch in the stands?? Does making this free throw really change his future?? What if he misses it?? (Maybe that's why some parents want to vomit) Maybe it's because they (parents and coaches) put more value in winning than they do in TEACHING their children how to try their best and hold nothing back and then how to RESPOND no matter the outcome (whether win or loss). I wish I was done here. But I'm not... It gets UGLY.
Something is not right:
Doping, cheating, scandal, murder?? What is going on?? These things hit the news and ESPN and I never remember hearing about them when I was watching ESPN or watching the Bulls when I was a kid. SO what has changed?? Bad news about sports is not limited to just professional athletes. Educators, social workers, doctors, psychologists and other professionals working with children have been sounding the alarm as well:
There's reason for concern:
"Are youngsters from 12 years of age sufficiently mature enough and emotionally stable to engage in traveling 2,000 miles to play in sporting events in front of 8-9 thousand spectators?" -- N.Y Times, 1952
Professionals are highlighting the "dark side" of youth sports, including:
Thank you for reading! Play Ball! --- BUT have tons of fun!
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